Waterborne on lakes in Italy


Image 1There are two lake taxis that ferry travellers between towns on Lake Como (Lago de Como in the region’s rich and sexy dialect). The chuff-chuff of the fast boat can be heard well before you see it, heavy blue-and-white hull lurching over Como’s rippling blue waters like a skipped stone and gangplanks folded in like unwieldy mesh wings. After piling aboard, during which there will be considerable jostling and shoving—this is Italy—you must quickly take a seat in one of the five-abreast rows. The seat won’t be comfortable, nor will its restraints be enough to keep you from rolling harshly along with the ship. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a small porthole, the view almost discernible through the water spray and blur of motion. But you’ll get from Menaggio to Como in less than half the time, and so make your train, appointment, or dinner reservation.

I prefer the slow taxi. The one that takes hours to travel from Como, the lake’s southernmost point, to Dormaso, in the north.
As seen on a map, Lake Como appears like a dancer, head and arms thrown back in ecstasy. Or perhaps that’s just the wind in her hair. Being in Italy changes your perceptions of things in this way; gives life’s hard angles softer, more voluptuous curves. Everything reduced to a beautiful woman. A map is only part of the story; I want to tell you about the lake as seen from the slow taxi.

Like the fast boat, boarding the slow taxi is not without its share of pushing. I’ve learned it’s easier to accept it, to close my eyes and be swept along with the crowd, feeling the whisp and weight of other bodies, their skins and clothes, against mine, all embarking together on this journey, sharing finite space aboard this gleaming ship that will carry us all across the blue depths for a time. I let go, and am part of this organism of sweat and skin, sunglasses and sultry language.
And there’s that word—journey. You’ve heard it a lot, and are likely to let your eyes slide across this familiar platitude like water off a lake fish’s back. Don’t. Because the slow taxi is about the journey.

What a journey it is.

The map-dancer’s slim legs don’t prepare you for the vast expanse of water that is Lake Como. It is simply everywhere, in every shade of blue, rippling in the wind. It is water held in a bowl of mountains; green, tree-covered mountains climbing away at all sides along the coastline, looming and falling back, folding into and then away from each other like the pages of a slowly opening book as you sail north and navigate the twists about the dancer’s knee.

Within the immense field of greens and blues, so bright and humbling in the light of a summer’s morning they draw tears—or perhaps that’s just a reaction to the wind, standing as you are at the back of the boat—one can pick out other colors, mosaics that resolve into gardens or villages as the taxi nears the shoreline. These multicolored towns, always defined by the sombre jut of a church tower, no matter how small, seem delicately placed with great care, while remaining a jumble of vivid masonry climbing ever higher into the mountains, not unlike the scrabbling of Italians onto a water taxi.

Every town is mismatched, gaudy, unique. Each sings a siren song of food, music, and garden paths. Yet I can’t bear to leave the wind, and the water. The boat’s smooth trail through the cool waters below, the reassuring drone of the passengers. When I am in bed that night, on dry land, I will close my eyes and feel the gentle vibration of the engines, the sun as it bakes the fair skin of my face. The names of the ports, the villas, will escape me, but the blue, the green, water and trees and mountains, those will stay with me always.

About the Author: Emma Clark has been traveling and writing most of her life, but only recently thought to combine the two. She studied Japanese at University of Texas, and is a class facilitator. She lives in south Minneapolis with her husband and a small menagerie of pets.

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